A funny little video from Novell

With Novell's Brainshare well underway they have released a very unique 'will it blend?' video onto YouTube. Ted Haeger's been talking about this for a while now and I can see why, it does a very good job of simulatanoeously being funny whilst remaining stuffy enough to be instantly identified as a Novell video. Sure it is no Apple advert but it is good to see even if you are just interested what would happen if you put a Windows CD, a Mighty Mouse and a helping of Red Bull into an industrial strength blender...

'The Code Linux' documentary

If you are new to the ideas of open source and Linux then this documentary is well worth watching:

The Code Linux - (available on Google Video)

Even if you are fairly versed in the subject matter it is good to see some prominent open source personalities such as Linus Torvalds, Jon "Maddog" Hall and Eric S Raymond. Well worth watching online or downloading for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

StressFree Webmin theme version 1.84 released

Version 1.84 of the StressFree Webmin theme is available for download from here.
This update addresses a few different issues:

  • Long drop-down menus now have scroll bars instead of moving off screen.
  • Improved Internet Explorer 6 & 7 compatibility.
  • New icons for the PHP, LDAP Client, Dovecot and Multi Router Traffic Grapher modules.

The new drop-down menus with scroll bar

If long drop-down menus do not annoy you and you do not use Internet Explorer then this upgrade is not really necessary. For those of you who have found one or both of these things to be an issue then you will probably find this upgrade worthwhile.

There has been a number of code and CSS changes in this release so if you encounter a problem please get in touch or leave a comment on the primary Webmin Theme page.

Why Autodesk should 'Open' DWF

Beyond the Paper's Scott Sheppard recently pointed to McDwiff as the first partial example of a Mac-based DWF viewer. Unfortunately for the DWF starved Mac community McDwiff is simply a wrapper around a WebKit browser window pointed directly at Autodesk's own Project Freewheel web service. It fails to qualify as a true desktop application for a number of crucial reasons:

  1. It does not (yet) add functionality beyond what is present in the Web-based Freewheel viewer.
  2. DWF files must be first uploaded to the Autodesk web service.
  3. There is no off-line mode or local caching to improve performance.
  4. The lifespan of the software is entirely dependent on the existence of the host service.

Note: These limitations are not the developers fault as they have obviously only just initiated the project. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.

Is this the end of iLife as we know it?

iLife is Apple's general purpose package for working with digital photos, video, audio and the Web. It usually receives an update every year around January/February but this year has been different. MacWorld came and went without a peep, leading to the general feeling that iLife would be released at the same time as OSX Leopard. But a few things have happened which suggests to me that iLife as we know it will cease to exist and its component applications will be absorbed into OSX Leopard:

Feature Parity with Windows Vista

The first reason lies in OSX's need to maintain feature parity, if not superiority, over Windows Vista. Whilst Apple have been quite vocal about Microsoft's feature copying in the past it would seem that Vista has digital media functionality currently lacking within OSX. This functionality ranges from the ability to manipulate digital photographs directly within the Windows Explorer through to the far more capable Movie Maker shipped on the Vista DVD. In contrast OSX needs the optional iLife package to provide this capability and as a consequence the degree to which OSX's default interface has been tailored to handle digital media is limited.

Functionality already present within developer builds of Leopard

A hint of forthcoming Leopard/iLife intergration has been illustrated in the latest developer build of Leopard. This build includes a 'Media' link in the Finder for displaying resources managed by iMovie, iPhoto and GarageBand. This kind of functionality is currently present within applications such as Pages and Keynote when iLife is installed but the fact it has made an appearance within the operating system suggests this tool-set will be far more ubiquitous in the future.

What else can Apple do to iLife?

The other problem that Apple must be facing is the looming question of what else to do to iLife to justify an upgrade. Numerous application iterations has seen its functionality reach a level where not a lot can be added without risk of eroding the lower end of Apple's professional application market. Where else can Apple go with iLife except for deep integration into Leopard alongside a healthy dose of Core Animation? By bringing together iLife's current capabilities, Core Animation's aesthetics and OSX's renowned ease of use Apple would create the 'complete package' discussed in the MacWorld keynote. Such a strategy would certainly provide them with some significant ammunition to fire in their war of words against Windows Vista.

Will it happen? Maybe not, but at least a number of other people are of the same opinion as myself which can't be a bad thing. I guess time (and Steve Jobs) will tell...

Diigo version 2 is looking really good

Diigo is a social bookmarking/research tool that is very similar to del.icio.us but in my opinion has the edge in terms of features, usability and aesthetics. They have just released version 2 of their look and feel and it is really nice. One of the best enhancements is in the Diigolet bookmarklet, one of the tools you can use to bookmark and forward sites to others. Unlike most bookmarklets which are fairly plain the Diigolet actually looks and functions almost as good as the dedicated Firefox extension whilst at the same time working on a range of different Internet browsers. Checkout the video below to see what I mean...

The 7 (f)laws of the Semantic Web (aka Web 3.0)

I have just been going through some old articles I have lying around and came across this:

The 7 (f)laws of the Semantic Web

Within the article Dan Zambonini lists seven issues he sees needed to be addressed by Semantic Web proponents in order to improve its chances of adoption.

  1. Not all Semantic Web data are created equal.
  2. A technology is only as good as developers think it is.
  3. Complex Systems must be built from successively simpler systems.
  4. A new solution should stop an obvious pain.
  5. People aren’t perfect.
  6. You don’t need an Ontology of Everything. But it would help.
  7. Philanthropy isn’t commercially viable.

Personally I think these are all excellent points which if overcome would considerably improve the adoption chances of many Semantic Web related technologies.

The Semantic Web is an ideal that has been around for a long time but has never reached critical mass. Recently a number of American journalists announced the ideals of the Semantic Web were alive and kicking in the guise of Web 3.0. Personally I think this is a fairly naive thing to say for a couple of reasons.

Firstly Tim Berners-Lee's concept of the Semantic Web existed well before the term 'Web 2.0' was even a glimmer in Tim O'Reilly's eye. So to launch a rebranding exercise and announce it as the new big thing ignores the fact it actually lost out to the simple, socially motivated read/write concepts which are the embodiment of 'Web 2.0'. Whatever evolves from the hype that is 'Web 2.0' will certainly not be the Semantic Web as previously envisioned. Instead it will inherit many of the aspects which has come before it whilst simultaneously adding a new twist, perhaps Semantic Web related (or not), which gets Web users and investors excited.

Secondly launching a crusade for the next big thing well before the benefits and lessons of 'Web 2.0' have been disseminated will ensure this next version of the Semantic Web meets the same fate of its previous incarnation. At issue is the fact that the Semantic Web concept represents a number of digital information and relationship ideals. Striving to meet these ideals should be the long term ambition of all future iterations of Web technologies, including 'Web 3.0' if it ever materialises. Attempting to simply package up these ideals into a set of technologies which get forced on an unsuspecting, and to a certain degree unwilling user base will only result in one thing: rejection.

Following up on CAD Collaboration

I have had a fairly positive response to my last CAD Collaboration post. Feedback has highlighted a couple of areas that need clarifying and developing a little further.

On Snapshots and Deltas

Paul Wilkinson of the Extranet Evolution blog put up a fairly long post that discussed many aspects of the article. Of most interest was his comments on the snapshots and deltas idea, significantly the fact that a similar approach had been adopted three years ago by BIW Information Channel from BIW Technologies.
BIW’s Accelerated Transfer pack condenses file revisions to a fraction of their previous size allowing faster transfer – up to ten times faster in the case of some files.

In the case of BIW it used delta encoding as a means of increasing data transfer speeds to remote, poorly connected places such as construction sites. This is slightly different to the concept I proposed because it deals with binary deltas rather than deltas at an abstracted digital model level. Binary deltas are great at a file level because they do allow changes to the same file be transferred somewhere very quickly. The problem is that binary deltas are intended to convert a file to a carbon copy of the remote source file from top to bottom.

Using delta's in a collaborative digital model is all about exchanging design intentions (i.e. rotated wall A 45 degrees) so that the model is updated but many properties of the actual file remain the same. In many respects it is more complex process than a low-level delta courtesy of a tool like diff. However this added complexity provides the benefit of enabling users to choose what design intentions they wish to inherit from other team members without worrying about the associated digital baggage that accompanies their team member's file.

Parallels update brings Windows CAD to the OSX desktop

Parallels released an update today for their Parallels Desktop for Mac virtualisation software which introduced 'coherence' mode and seriously improved video drivers capable of supporting DirectX. To give the new features a test drive I installed Autodesk Design Review, Revit 9.1 (trial version) and Bentley View on the virtual instance of Windows XP and had a play. All performed very well even with minimal RAM allocated for testing purposes. Quite possibly the only let down was that before you could start using the software the virtual machine first had to load Windows.

The screencast above illustrates the boot process, coherence mode, Design Review and Revit in action. The screencast was taken at a fairly low frame rate and YouTube just makes it all that worse. Please take my word for it that performance on a 1.83 Intel Core Duo iMac was fairly snappy even with only 256meg of RAM assigned to the VM. In a production environment you would certainly want to allocate at least 512meg of RAM to Parallels which would mean needing between 1.5/2gig of RAM in the Mac.

Whilst I would hardly recommend to architects that they should use their primary productivity application in a virtualised window, from the perspective of those Mac users who need to occasionally use a piece of Windows only software this level of functionality and performance from Parallels is perfect. Sure it is not nearly as quick as running natively, but then you don't have instant access to all of OSX's niceties that you begin to miss once forced to work on a Windows desktop for a little while.

Google Apps gets serious but where is the offline option?

On February 21st Google released their anticipated Premier and Education versions of its Google Apps service. In a rare move for Google the Premier option actually costs the business US$50 per user per year rather than simply relying on advertising revenue. For your money you get quite a few more features: 10gig of storage per user, some interesting looking API's and a guarantee of 99.9% uptime with support.

On the whole deal is pretty good but Google has gone out of their way to stress that this service is targeted at the significant portion of employees who do not actually have email accounts on the basis that it is too expensive for the business to maintain them internally. Aiming at this market is a good strategy considering Google Apps lacks one significant feature that will see it struggle to gain acceptance in the majority of businesses where staff email is an entrenched and essential service: offline access.